After an end-of-the-year frenzy of school projects and performances, work events, and holiday parties, by the time winter break rolls around, most families are spent. But you can bet most kids will quickly rebound from the Christmas rush, energized and ready to make the most of their time off from studying and test taking. Keep your young ones engaged every day of break with our top 10 favorite ways to explore New York City—from head-scratching magic tricks performed by a master illusionist to an underwater adventure in the middle of Times Square, and, of course, some last-minute holiday fun to stay in the Christmas spirit as long as possible.
Saturday, December 23
The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show
Walking along the half-mile track of the NYBG’s annual Holiday Train Show is an opportunity to experience our city from the perspective of a giant. Every detail is captured in Paul Busse’s miniature cityscape, from the iconic parks to the architectural landmarks. New to the showcase this year, model trains will travel through midtown Manhattan, which includes petite replicas of the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal, and the Empire State Building. The event also includes loads of daytime family-friendly programming like puppet parades, music, crafts, and poetry readings. We recommend visiting at night, though, to see the display aglow with festive lights.
Why You Should Go: Behold the grandeur of New York City from a unique, bird’s-eye perspective. Admission includes access to the gorgeous grounds, exhibitions, and galleries; and adults (21 and over) can enjoy wintry cocktails and live entertainment during the weekend Bar Car Nights.
Holiday Train Show
New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx
$30 for adults; $28 for seniors and students; $18 for children ages 2–12
Saturday extended hours: 10 a.m.–7 p.m.
Sunday, December 24
National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey
Why have your kids sit through an IMAX movie when they can immerse themselves in the latest entertainment-meets-nature technology? Take a trip to Times Square’s newest nautical adventure, Ocean Odyssey, where stingrays dart beneath your feet and humpback whales, sharks, sea lions, and squid glide around and above you. The 60,000-square-foot virtual attraction should surprise and delight visitors of all ages, but younger kids will be particularly entranced.
Why You Should Go: Dive into the Pacific Ocean and all its wildlife from the proximity of Times Square. Advanced ticket purchase recommended.
National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey
226 West 44th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, Midtown
$39.50 for adults; $36.50 for seniors; $32.50 for children 3–12
10 a.m.–10:30 p.m. (last ticket for 9:30 p.m. entrance)
Monday, December 25
Macy’s unveiled its first holiday window installation, featuring porcelain dolls from around the world, more than 150 years ago. Decades later, other large department stores lining Broadway and Fifth Avenue followed suit, establishing a rich tradition that locals and visitors alike flock to year after year. This season, the biggest retailers, from Lord & Taylor to Saks Fifth Avenue, continue to impress shoppers with dazzling tributes to the New York Botanical Garden, a reimagining of everyone’s favorite Disney fairy tale, and an animated display of a winter wonderland.
Why You Should Go: Venture beyond the gorgeous windows at Macy’s Herald Square and give another retailer a chance to wow you. Our absolute favorite this year is the Bergdorf Goodman display, “To New York With Love,” which pays homage to various NYC cultural beacons.
Final Glimpse of the Holiday Windows
Tuesday, December 26
Here’s your chance to take the family on a trip around the world—without leaving NYC. With promises to “ignite your imagination and challenge your perspective,” Gulliver’s Gate delivers with a miniature re-creation of various countries and the world’s most remarkable landmarks. You’ll see moving cars navigate the NYC traffic, the Beatles crossing Abbey Road, Russia’s Red Square, and more than 100,000 tiny human figures living life across our planet at 1/87th their actual size. In just about 90 minutes, you can witness the breathtaking beauty of China’s Forbidden City, journey around the Himalayan Mountains, and check out a functioning model of the Panama Canal, complete with moving ships and locks.
Why You Should Go: Kids will love the interactive elements, like making planes take off and trapeze artists swing. Bonus: Gulliver’s Gate includes a behind-the-scenes peek at the control room, which is responsible for all the moving parts that make this exhibit come to life.
Wednesday, December 27
Jason Bishop at the New Victory Theater
If you missed master magician and illusionist Jason Bishop last year at the New Victory Theater, now you have a second chance! From classic card tricks and a disappearing magician’s assistant to how-did-he-do-that levitation, Bishop puts on a brand-new show with a dry humor that speaks to both kids and adults. The intimate setting at this beautiful old theater is perfect for audience participation, and his playful skits with Gizmo the dog will have your children rolling in the aisles.
Why You Should Go: Release any lingering holiday stress with first-rate illusions and head-scratching magical feats, without breaking the bank.
New Victory Theater
229 West 42nd Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues), Midtown
Shows at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Tickets start at $20
Thursday, December 28
Explore a New Neighborhood
As challenging as it is to break out of familiar routines, there is no better way to ring in the New Year than with a fresh perspective. If you have the time and energy, devote an entire day to eating through one of our two favorite neighborhoods: Flushing (New York City’s biggest Chinatown) and Williamsburg. We’ve got family-friendly walking-and-nibbling tours of both. If you only have a few hours, check out our list of indie bookstores across the city, or venture borough to borough for a look at the best legally commissioned works of graffiti.
Why Should You Go: Find new reasons to fall in love with one of the best cities in the world.
Friday, December 29
New York Hall of Science
Give your little one a chance to create something special out of practically nothing. The New York Hall of Science’s ReMake the Holidays series is extending the holiday spirit in a meaningful way. For four days, kids can craft toys and sculptures out of recycled materials. Friday’s program will focus on plastic, which will be used to make pull-toys and cars, shrinking artworks, and light experiments.
Why You Should Go: The instructors are terrific, and the supercool Nikon Small World photography exhibition is a great post-craft stop.
New York Hall of Science: ReMake the Holidays
47-01 111th Street, Corona
$16 for adults; $13 for children (2–17), students, and seniors
General hours 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
ReMake the Holidays is free with general admission
Saturday, December 30
American Museum of Natural History
In its 39th year, the Kwanzaa celebration at the American Museum of Natural History is steeped in tradition and the arts. This lively event includes performances by a number of vibrant musical acts, including the a cappella group The Persuasions, the Brooklyn United Marching Band, and Vy Higginsen’s Sing Harlem Choir. You can also visit the Harlem Arts Alliance’s marketplace, where 30 local artisans offer handmade crafts and artworks. Kwanzaa 2017 is free with general admission.
Why You Should Go: Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to grab a brush and join visual artist Sophia Dawson as she paints an enormous canvas celebrating the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
American Museum of Natural History: Milstein Hall of Ocean Life
Central Park West at West 79th Street
$23 for adults; $18 for students and seniors; $13 for children (2–12)
Sunday, December 31
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
Head to Kings County for a spectacular holiday tradition that has lit up the borough since the late ’80s. This South Brooklyn nabe single-handedly keeps the holiday lights industry in business by blanketing their homes, lawns, and streets in blinding Christmas decor. Keep an eye out for the homes of veteran decorators Spata and Polizzotto—it will be impossible to miss the 29-foot wooden soldiers, motorized carousels, a larger-than-life Santa, and more lights than you can possibly imagine.
Why You Should Go: Immerse yourself in a beloved tradition kept alive by a tightly knit Brooklyn community. While there are no set hours, most families turn on their lights at dark and turn them off at bedtime.
The best lights are on Eleventh Avenue to Thirteenth Avenue, and from 83rd to 86th Streets;
we recommend visiting 5–9 p.m.
Free to the public, although donations are welcome
Monday, January 1
Sue’s Tech Kitchen Holiday SpecTECHular
If the kiddos in your brood are into technology, head to Roosevelt Island this winter break for a truly mind-bending, interactive outing. Sue’s Tech Kitchen is a vast, 5,000-square-foot STEM lab that incorporates food to engage budding scientists (snacks and science, a brilliant combination). It was designed, in part, to empower girls to connect more readily with technology (and the Edible Selfie Station sure made my daughter reimagine her favorite pastime). Participants also sample liquid nitrogen bytes, make food with a 3-D printer, and play with oodles of culinary-themed puzzles and games. Purchase tickets in advance and arrive within the appointed hour, but stay as long as you want!
Why You Should Go: A hands-on way for children to engage with technology beyond their daily experience.
Sue’s Tech Kitchen Holiday SpecTECHular
The Bridge at Cornell Tech
11 East Loop Road, Roosevelt Island
Monday, January 1, is the final day
10 a.m.–4 p.m.